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Clearwater has plan to unsnarl traffic around courthouse

CLEARWATER — Ever since the new Memorial Causeway Bridge turned Court Street into Clearwater's main route to the beach, the traffic and the pedestrian crossings around the Pinellas County Courthouse have been a bit of a mess.

City officials decided Monday to embark on a $722,000 project to rectify that.

Between November and March, they will reconfigure crosswalks, add turn lanes and adjust the timing of traffic lights on the cluster of roads surrounding the courthouse: Court and Chestnut streets, and Fort Harrison, Osceola and Oak avenues. The county government will pay half the cost.

"We're going to have devices to herd pedestrians to the proper crossing points," city traffic operations manager Paul Bertels told the Clearwater City Council.

The four-month project will:

• Widen the sidewalk in front of the courthouse to 21 from 7 feet on the south side of Court Street.

• Put traffic guards and chains along that sidewalk to channel pedestrians crossing Court Street to two spots at Osceola and Oak avenues.

• Put in dual southbound left-turn lanes from Oak Avenue to Chestnut Street to help clear out the afternoon rush-hour traffic leaving the courthouse.

• Install a traffic light at Court and Osceola to help pedestrians cross Court Street safely. Also, replace an old traffic signal at Court and Oak with a sturdier mast-arm signal.

• Create a pedestrian crossing at Chestnut and Palm Avenue.

• Install a mast-arm traffic signal on Court Street east of Garden Avenue with overhead signs directing drivers into a new arrangement of traffic lanes. Heading west on Court, there will be a right-turn-only lane approaching Fort Harrison Avenue, as well as two through lanes. A fourth lane will be a combination of a through lane and left-turn lane.

Once all of this is done, the city will tweak the timing of traffic signals so that Court and Chestnut streets get a longer green light than Fort Harrison Avenue, which crosses them. That's meant to help beach traffic move through, Bertels said.

City Council members had questions for Bertels. They wanted to make sure all this work would fix their pet peeves regarding traffic around the courthouse.

Paul Gibson wants the traffic lights on Fort Harrison Avenue to be better synchronized. John Doran hopes a right-turn lane from Court Street to Fort Harrison will reduce the number of drivers who race down the right-hand lane of Court and then veer left in front of other cars on Court that have been waiting at that traffic light.

Mayor Frank Hibbard wants to make sure the new traffic signals on Court Street won't slow down spring break beach traffic, which can back up on Court and block Fort Harrison Avenue. "Everything starts to fail, especially between Court and Chestnut, when that gets too loaded," he said.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater has plan to unsnarl traffic around courthouse 09/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 5:06pm]
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